Hard work pays, goes an old adage; and the success of an entrepreneur depends on their ability to always search for and take full advantage of every opportunity. These words of wisdom from sages of years gone define 24-year-old entrepreneur, Tina Mutaharugo.
Orphaned by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the founder of Ibyiwacu Fashion Design, a fashion and design house in Kigali, found stimulus and drive to build a better future for herself and that of other Rwandans, especially the youth.
The loss of her parents and relatives in the Genocide also provided inspiration to overcome any obstacles, she says.
Like the proverbial phoenix, Mutaharugo’s resolve is to rise from the ashes and make it big in the fashion industry, and create jobs for other youth, particularly young women.
I do not worry about not having a job despite the harsh situations I passed through as a genocide survivor, says Mutaharugo. The youthful designer makes a range of women and men’s clothes, including jackets, trousers, dresses and caps, using African fabrics, as well as necklaces, traditional hats and beads.
As a young girl growing up in post-genocide Rwanda, Mutaharugo admired well-dressed people and always wanted to ‘dress smart’. She was also fascinated by trade and entrepreneurship, which is one of the reasons why she decided pursue a degree course in economics and business at university.
Mutaharugo started saving some of her pocket money while still at University Libre de Kigali (ULK) in preparation for her future business venture. The enterprising young woman first conducted research on the nature of the local fashion industry to avoid some of the challenges that start-up businesses face.
With her savings and some additional money contributed by family members, Mutaharugo had Rwf1 million to kick-start the enterprise in 2015.
She says women entrepreneurs, like Katy Bashabe, Sonia Mugabo and Chantal Uwizeyimana, were her role models, and gave her the inspiration to start up her business and keep going in case of challenges.
Later, as government proposed to ban used clothes and shoes, it challenged her to work harder and eventually decided to concentrate on the venture to bridge the gap.
Mutaharugo says the local fashion industry is still young and sector pioneers control much of the market share, which means that start-ups like hers must work harder and innovate to stay afloat.
“For new entrants, it is always hard to penetrate the market or gain customer trust. So, one has no choice but to be innovative and make unique designs to attract buyers as well as create a niche market,” Mutaharugo explains.
The lack of raw materials and equipment also affects the enterprise. The designer adds that equipment is also costly, with sewing machines going for Rwf1 million each. Bulk buyers of fabrics need over Rwf2 million, which is too high and requires one’s business to be doing well to afford such operational costs.
Mutaharugo, who formerly depended on charity for basic needs and school fees is now financially independent and is able to provide for her needs.
The young entrepreneur earns Rwf200,000 profit per month from the business.
She has been able to get big clients including companies and political parties that order for corporate wear, such as T-shirts, shirts, blouses. She also makes bridal attire. The young entrepreneur conducts special exhibitions at Camp Kigali and Car Park Inn to attract new buyers and grow her market.
At the recent exhibition, she was able to rake in Rwf3 million. Last year, she was contracted to make costumes for performers during the Ubumuntu annual arts festival. The event brings together different artistes from around the world to showcase their craft.
Mutaharugo presently employs 10 permanent staff.
Mutaharugo has eyes on the regional and global fashion scenes. “Not many Rwandan entrepreneurs sell products abroad. So, I want to join the few local designers that export fabrics to regional and other markets,” she says. She is banking on her innovation and the dynamic team she works with to achieve this feat. Mutaharugo says the enterprise is driven by innovation, creativity and dynamism.
“Some people are satisfied with being small…That’s not me as I always want to advance. That’s why I am working hard to open other fashion houses around town in the near future,” she adds.
Mutaharugo is a member of the Fashion Designers Co-operatives, which she believes will play a significant role in “supporting me either financially or morally in my expansion plans”.
Advice to youth
Mutaharugo urges youth to be risk-takers, arguing that success is not for the faint-hearted. The entrepreneur says many young people have very good business ideas but never implement them because they fear taking that “critical first step”.
She adds that some are ‘crippled’ by elitist thinking that promotes white collar jobs and demeans entrepreneurship and vocational skills. She urges young people especially girls to embrace innovation in order to move to the next level.
Read More: The New Times